Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Saratogian Article on 20th District

Will John Sweeney please stand up? by JIM KINNEY 10/24/2006 - The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The percentage growth of Democrats far outpaces Republican growth in the congressional district that includes Saratoga County -- but Republicans still outnumber Democrats by almost two to one. . . .

Since the year 2000, the number of Republicans in the 20th district has increased by 8 percent, while the number of Democrats has increased by 20 percent. However, the district is 43 percent Republican, 25 percent Democrat, and 23 percent 'blanks' or unaffiliated voters, according to data on file at the state Board of Elections.

The breakdown was 46 percent GOP, 23 percent Democrats and 25 percent blank in 2000, the year Sweeney coasted to re-election over an under-funded and unorganized Democrat Ken McCallion, 153,600 to 70,000 votes.

This year, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand is considered by political observers to be the strongest opposition Sweeney has faced.

Sweeney's district got bigger after re-apportionment following the 2000 Census. It stretches from near Cooperstown to just north of Poughkeepsie through Saratoga County to Lake Placid.

Bob Turner, an assistant professor in Skidmore College's Government Department, said enrollment is only one measure of a district's political leanings. Another is who voters pick in presidential years. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry received 53 percent of the vote in Saratoga Springs and 45 percent of the vote districtwide.

'It's a measure of people's political leanings now, not back when they registered,' Turner said.

This creates a perception that Sweeney is vulnerable and, Turner said, 'that attracts a better opposition candidate and more money. It's really a self-fulfilling prophesy.'

Allison Price, Gillibrand's campaign spokeswoman, said voters are looking beyond party, even as Gillibrand plays up Sweeney's connections to Bush.

'I think people are voting for the candidates they like,' she said.

Shawn Thompson of Saratoga Springs is vice chairman of the county Democratic Party. He pointed to the city Democrats' success in sweeping Saratoga Springs elections last fall, even though the GOP still holds an enrollment edge.

'I think you've got to reach out to all sorts of people,' he said.

County GOP chairman John 'Jasper' Nolan said downstaters are moving into the southern portions of Sweeney's district -- places like Columbia County where Gillibrand lives -- because it's an easy commute via train to New York City. Democrats have been gaining in Saratoga County, too.

Nolan said the party tires to reach out to new residents.

'But it's harder than it used to be,' he said. 'People come with their own affiliations.'

Thompson pointed to a strong slate of Democrats at the top of the ticket, including Eliot Spitzer for governor and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton running for re-election. . . .

Last week, a Siena Research Institute poll put Sweeney ahead by 14 points. But Turner said Monday it's probably closer than that. He pointed to the money both sides are putting in.

'If it wasn't close, they would have used their resources elsewhere,' he said. 'This is going to be a close one. This might be one of those squeakers that goes long into the night.'

Control of the U.S. House of Representatives is at stake.

'That's the big enchilada,' Turner said.

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